Workforce Planning & Development
Transformational change requires a vision and leadership to inspire, motivate and engage. As we prepare our workforce for the future, we are fostering an environment that encourages collaboration, innovation and communication no matter where we work. Through training, development and growth opportunities, employees are acquiring the skillsets needed to align with our strategy for a clean energy future. This is especially important as we move toward a digital and more distributed work model that requires a flexible, innovative and diverse workforce.
Through the Achieving Excellence Program and other efforts, we have been preparing for anticipated changes in our industry and workforce. For example, we took steps to manage the financial challenges created by the pandemic. While we were able to largely insulate our employees from the most damaging economic impacts resulting from the pandemic, we took steps to proactively manage our cost structure to benefit customers, investors and employees. In 2020, we offered an early retirement package for eligible employees, opening up the opportunity to organize our company for the future while creating new growth opportunities for employees.
We anticipate approximately 4,300 employees will leave or retire from 2021 through 2025. We see this level of turnover across our workforce as an opportunity to identify our future talent needs within AEP and to continue to diversify our workforce.
In addition, the global pandemic created new ways of looking at how and where we perform our work. Remote and hybrid work provides many benefits for our employees and company, including cost savings and flexibility. It increases our access and ability to hire diverse candidates with unique experiences, beliefs, ideas and backgrounds.
One challenge we must address is the shortage of skilled labor, such as line mechanics. We have workforce development initiatives focused on eliminating barriers to hire qualified and diverse line workers. In our Transmission and Distribution departments, we have two Line Mechanic Apprentice training programs registered with the Department of Labor. We grant journeyman status to all program graduates. In addition, eligible veterans may apply their GI Bill benefits while in the apprenticeship program. We currently have more than 800 apprentices, with more than 50 using their GI Bill benefits. From 2017 through 2020, we trained and qualified close to 620 apprentices to advance to nationally recognized journey worker status. Apprenticeship training has proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce skilled labor shortages.
We are collaborating with the Business Roundtable (BRT), the Ohio BRT, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers through our Joint Apprentice Training Committee (JATC), and universities and community colleges throughout our operating regions to meet our future business needs. Together we are working to implement educational programs to provide students, as well as current and future AEP employees, with the tools to transition into these new skillsets.
Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) has a strong education and internship partnership with Oklahoma State University IT Associate in Applied Science in High Voltage Lineman and, the new Cherokee Nation Associate Program. In addition to training on campus, students can receive hands-on technical training from an accredited program and then take advantage of paid internships to gain additional first-hand knowledge and experience, some even participating in storm restoration efforts. Graduates begin work as line mechanics and advance to supervisors, job superintendents, labor leaders, power line estimators and contractors. Oklahoma State University also has a Power Plant Technology program that enables students to gain hands-on training on cutting-edge technology and equipment. Paid internships, a requirement for this program, ensure students learn and gain real-world experience before they graduate.
In 2021, we plan to expand the line worker recruitment and development program. This program will attract, qualify and retain more line workers, while optimizing training costs. The team will develop a recruitment and training playbook that provides recruiting guidance and standardization. The scope involves implementing the line worker internship program to all operating companies and expanding the trade school and higher education partnerships. We are designing and implementing a standard technical bridge between pre-apprentice/intern to formal training program (onboarding) program.
One example includes launching a comprehensive recruiting and training program designed to increase the number of women in the AEP line worker role in 2021. In partnership with Dress for Success Columbus, the goal of the program is to remove historical biases and barriers hindering women from entering line work through the creation of opportunities that set the stage for long-term career success. It will provide technical training, career readiness, mentoring, training, wrap-around support services and pre-apprentice educational assistance that will potentially lead to full-time employment with AEP.
Repositioning Our Employees
The decision to retire a coal plant has profound life-changing implications for the hundreds of employees and contractors who operate and maintain the plants, including support staff throughout the company. It is not uncommon for a power plant to employ generations of families or serve as a major employer in the community. Our employees are loyal to the plants and their communities, so closure often brings challenges that include finding new employment; learning new skillsets; obtaining additional education, certification or training; and sometimes relocation. As we transition to a clean energy future, we are working with our employees to help them make the transition as smoothly as possible. Among the resources we provide when plants are on track for retirement include:
- On-site support to provide training for applying for jobs and calculating pension benefits.
- Education assistance repayment forgiveness (normally, if employees leave the company less than a year after completing a degree, they would repay AEP; this is forgiven for affected plant employees).
- Engaging outplacement services to help employees prepare for re-entering the workforce, resume building, improving interview skills, etc.
- Inviting outside organizations such as a state’s worker displacement unit, to work with employees on how to apply for jobless benefits.
- Holding internal job fairs with other business units to inform employees about different types of job opportunities that exist within AEP.
- “Loaning” plant employees to other AEP business units (e.g., Transmission) to learn about other jobs and job opportunities.
- Encouraging plant employees to shadow peers in other business units (such as a line crew, welder or mechanic in Distribution or Transmission).
Learn more about how AEP supports a Just Transition in our Climate Impact Analysis Report.